Winding Down

The end of August looms and even though summer doesn’t turn into autumn until September 23d, our emotional turning is usually as September begins.   We all start thinking school buses (“the wheels on the bus go ‘round and ‘round…”), falling leaves and autumn plans.  Kerm and I were out driving a couple of weeks ago, and noticed the golden rod in full bloom with sere-looking grasses around, speaking eloquently of late summer in the Finger Lakes.  We spent one evening reading by candle-light after an impressive thunder storm went through.  It took off a few limbs here but did more damage east of us.    This stormy tantrum suggested that summer will not leave quietly.

As I look back at June, July and August, I observe that some of my garden plans worked out very well; others not at all.  The red geraniums, lavender petunias and yellow daisies on the table outside the back door around my small statue of Kwan Yin, the East Asian goddess of compassion, have cheered me all summer.  The simple little statue looks very at home in south-central New York, amid the flowers.  Even the playful cats chasing moths around the light managed not to dislodge the pots of posies.  The self-seeded sunflowers remaining in the corner of one garden bed have bloomed sunshine right into my window.  This is good since the sunflowers I actually planted did nothing at all.   We have oodles of kale, which would please my retired doctor if he knew but the lettuce has been sparse.  The cucumbers have produced prolifically and the tomatoes are ripening.  Hal Borland* commented about the end of August……“Goldenrod in bloom everywhere.   And asters.…….milkweeds have formed their pods, still green and tightly closed.  Wild clematis sheds its small white petals…… wild blackberries ripen……..summer wanes well before the Equinox.”

Kerm and I have a 55th wedding anniversary coming up in September.  As we did for our fiftieth, we are planning to celebrate, along with our sons and their families, in Maine.  All of us are so caught up in our busy lives that we hope our thirst for quiet and peace might be quenched along the Maine coast.  There is something about the ocean — the unique smells, the crashing sound of the waves on the rocks, even the cry of the gulls — that heals weariness.   So we look forward to this kaleidoscope of sounds and sights, hoping for good weather and maybe a whale watch thrown in.  

I think that in 55 years, any marriage must have some difficult times; that’s just the way life is, and we have had some of those.  But as a whole, the years have been very good.  While I wouldn’t really want to see my future all laid out before me, it might be useful if we could catch just a glimpse when we are sixteen or twenty-five or even fifty; not a full-screen Technicolor vision; just a trace — a glimmer — so that we don’t get bogged down in life’s little irritations and disappointments along the way.  Catching a flash of my gardens now might have encouraged me back when I didn’t have a garden at all.  Knowing our sons would grow into fine people who have overcome difficulties and who make good choices might have comforted us during some of their more interesting growing pains.  Glimpsing a vision of wonderful friends in later years might have assured us in our very young years that friends do not depend on how we dress or look or how cool we are.   

With rare exceptions (part of my ancestry is Highland Scot – so I do believe a few people have a thinner veil than most), we are not afforded these peeks into the future.  We merely bumble along and grow from our mistakes.  I am grateful that my choices over the years (even some dubious ones) have brought me to where I am now.  And realizing this helps me to trust more in what the future may bring.  It does not totally eliminate my anxiety, but it makes those hair-tearing “Oh My! What’ll I DO?” kinds of days fewer.   Emerson** said it well: “All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen.”  Of course, with my addictive need to plan ahead, I’ll still be getting in my own way as I stumble into life eternal.

Another update on the cleaning out and down-sizing…….it goes very slowly.  The church yard sale rid me of a couple of tubs full.   But that was a small drop in a sea of things.  My daughter-in-law and granddaughters reorganized the toy room which was a major help.  Maybe more will vanish when Kerm has his yard sale later this fall.  Usually his stuff appeals to those who like old tools and strange implements; I generally don’t put out cut glass and embroidered Christening dresses.  But perhaps this one will be different.    I’m even contemplating paring down my kitchen items.  We are so bombarded with new “conveniences” that will “make our lives easier” that one is in danger of running out of storage space.  Enthusiastic sales people urge a Panini grill (I can mash a sandwich very well with a spatula), an electric rice cooker (my rice might be more dependable with one, but….), the marvelous $800 ice cream machine that makes incredibly smooth ice cream, gelato and frozen yogurt (might be wonderful for a large family but for two of us?).  So far I have not purchased any of these items, but my kitchen is still over-full with things I seldom use.   I need to do this paring on a day I’m feeling both crowded as to space and firm as to cleansing!

So far, I’ve only mentioned actual items that take up space, but there are also intangibles that clutter up our minds.  Grimy assumptions about people — perhaps inherited from family or school — might need a thorough scrubbing.   Our uninformed opinions about people from different parts of the world, different racial or cultural backgrounds or even different socio-economic positions in life may need to be cleaned up and viewed with more truth and clarity.  I find that so very many people generalize —- “you know what women are like” —– “men are clueless” —– “all Muslims/Indians/poor people/Christians/teenagers want is_____!!”  We classify people because of some bad experience with one person, or what we’ve have been told about someone else’s.  I think that looking at people as individuals is a happier and more authentic way to live.  We become fearful when we are uninformed or intimidated by what we do not understand and react, perhaps unwisely.   Objective learning is a better choice.  Listening to too much news — whatever the channel — is a good thing to decrease. Believing everything one hears/sees via social media is patently foolish.   I think the constant and repetitive barrage of someone else’s views and recaps of news is detrimental to seeing life’s joys.  And it certainly impedes my goal of light-heartedness.  The cleaning out process, whether with possessions or our thinking, is on-going.  Working on it keeps us maturing in understanding and expands our minds.  Muhammad Ali*** said: The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”  Obviously our perception of the world and acquisition of wisdom can be clearer with age and experience —- if we so choose.

There is still plenty to do in August besides sorting and tossing.  Summer weather and opportunities remain with us for a while yet; so we can plan picnics, enjoy a day by one of our lakes, and take road-trips to become better acquainted with our wonderful surroundings.  All too soon we will be dragging out old sheets for frost covers in the garden and planting cover crops to stabilize soil over the winter.  There is comfrey to be cut back again.  There is mulch to acquire for weed control.  It is canning/freezing season.  We just canned and froze33 quarts of peaches, and I must ensure that we do not run out of tomato juice this year.   Ours was gone by May and I was unhappy.   After processing our own juices, the commercial ones taste too salty, too sugary— just not satisfying.  Tomato juice is my elixir when I’m not feeling well and the base of my spaghetti sauce.   Before summer leaves us, there are still fun dinners with friends to put on the calendar and good times with family before we must consider road conditions, boots and parkas.  Long-term thinking has its place, but to live fully for each day is also good.  The end of August is more an alert than a siren.  It warns us that summer is not endless and that we should be about our business of enjoying it.


Carol may be reached at:   

*Hal Borland – 1900-1978.  American journalist, writer and naturalist.  He was a staff writer for the NY Times.

**Ralph Waldo Emerson – 1803-1882.  Emerson is one of America’s most forceful advocates of the dignity of man.  Published poetry and essays and is among the half dozen most-quoted men in America today. 

***Muhammad Ali —- 1942-2016.  Professional boxer, activist and philanthropist.

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